MOUNT PLEASANT — Responding to development-weary residents in one of the nation's fastest-growing communities, the Town Council has voted for another 180-day freeze on new apartment construction plans and it's also discussing a potentially huge increase in development impact fees.
The apartment moratorium would require a follow-up vote when Town Council meets in March, but the measure passed by a wide margin Tuesday, suggesting final approval is likely. The vote was 7-2, with only Mayor Linda Page and Councilman Mark Smith opposed.
The town had a 180-day moratorium in place last year as well, from April to November, although no new apartment projects had been proposed since the summer of 2015. Page said the latest moratorium is not needed.
"We don’t have any apartment projects coming, and I don’t think we’ve had any for almost two years," she said.
Councilman Joe Bustos, the leading proponent of both moratoria, said the town needs to catch its breath.
"If I had my druthers, I’d go to permit allocation, and that would be that," he said, referring to an annual cap on building permits, which the town used to have.
Town resident Bill Dickens was among several who attended the council meeting to speak in favor of restrictions on development. He apologized for being late, saying it took him more than an hour to drive the several miles from his house to the municipal building.
“I think the growth needs to be curbed," he said. "The traffic is now horrendous, on Coleman (Boulevard)."
Apartment buildings have been rising across Mount Pleasant, but most were approved years ago, some of them before the recession. But several residents and council members blame the growth of apartment developments, in particular, for increasing traffic problems.
Bustos said the latest moratorium would give the town time to pause and study plans for needed capital improvements. The same councilman also has been pressing for the council to increase the town's development impact fees to the maximum that the law allows.
Based on a recent study conducted for the town, the fees paid to build one house could potentially be increased from the current $1,858 to as much as $7,722. Those fees would be in addition to the $6,963 Mount Pleasant Waterworks charges in per-residence impact fees for water and sewer.
The town's impact fees, combined with the Waterworks' impact fees, make the fees for building in Mount Pleasant the highest in the greater Charleston area. Some cities, such as North Charleston, have no municipal impact fees.
Development groups and allies such as the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce oppose any increase in fees, saying it would make housing less affordable because buyers would ultimately pay. Supporters of an increase say that currently, Mount Pleasant taxpayers are subsidizing the impacts of development, and that home prices have soared in the town regardless of fees.
Most single-family homes sold in the town recently changed hands for more than $400,000.
"If we’re going to price ourselves out of the business of home building, then we’re not going to have any affordable housing, and we’re not going to have any medium-priced housing," Councilman Elton Carrier said.
Bustos had urged Town Council to approve a motion Tuesday to have the town's attorneys draw up an impact fee ordinance calling for the maximum fees possible, but he not have enough support.
"This cart is waaaaay before the horse," said Smith.
The majority wanted to hold off and wait for a workshop meeting Feb. 21 devoted to the impact fee issue, before directing attorneys to write legislation.
As it stands, council members plan to discuss raising impact fees next week and could even vote on the issue. That would be followed by a later public hearing on the issue, and a later vote at the March Town Council meeting.